KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Maddie Bowman dropped into the pipe under the lights. She was leading the competition, but the formidable Frenchwoman Marie Martinod was waiting in the wings.
“Come on, sweetie,” Bowman’s dad, Bill, yelled from the crowd.
Maddie cleanly landed a right-spinning 900 — two and a half rotations — and a left-spinning 540 — one and a half rotations — with a mute grab.
“Good job!” her father screamed.
She continued down the pipe with a left cork 900 and a right 720.
“Maddie B! Maddie B!” said her grandmother, Lorna Perpall, wearing a stars and stripes head scarf.
She landed her final trick, a switch 720, and the crowd exploded.
The score was an 89, the highest of the day. Up on the big screen, Bowman, who is 20, opened her month and put her hands to her cheeks like Macauley Culkin in “Home Alone.”
But Martinod was still to come. The raucous French fans wore sunglasses, white hats and red capes, blew whistles, and chanted: “Allez Marie!”
Martinod, 29, had retired but came back to compete for a gold medal at the urging of Sarah Burke, a pioneer of freeskiing who died in a training accident in a Park City, Utah, halfpipe two years ago. Burke was on the minds of many competitors in Thursday’s first-ever women’s Olympic ski halfpipe event.
Martinod’s run was spectacular, but she skidded slightly on the landings.
The score came up: 85.4. Bowman had won the gold.
The Bowman family looked at the scoreboard, then at each other in shock. Their eyes welled up with tears.
“I can’t believe it,” Perpall said over and over to no one in particular.
Perpall, 78, who lives in Placerville, traveled to Russia at the insistence of Maddie, her oldest granddaughter. They are extremely close. She wore a shirt that said “Badass Grandma” with the American flag.
The flower ceremony took place on a podium behind a barrier, out of view of the family.
“But tomorrow they’ll have the medal ceremony, and I’m going to be there!” Perpall said. “It’s just such an incredible feeling. It’s really quite indescribable.”
Her younger brother, Alec, who is also a competitive freeskier, celebrated with the family.
“I knew she had it in her,” he said. “I could tell.”
Maddie’s mom is a ski-racing coach and her dad is a former racer who runs racing programs, but they both said they never pushed Maddie to compete, either as a racer, which she did until she was 16, or as a freeskier.
“She pushes herself,” Sue Bowman said. “She’s really self-motivated.”
Maddie had been the gold-medal favorite in Thursday’s competition, and the family felt the same relief that favorite Ted Ligety’s family had felt the day before when he came through for gold in the giant slalom.
“I had all sorts of thoughts going through my mind, especially the last few days, but wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Bill Bowman said. “She got it done.”
All four Americans made the final. Squaw Valley skier Brita Sigourney of Carmel was sixth, Annalisa Drew was ninth, and Angeli VanLaanen was 11th.
Maddie finally made her way over to the reporters waiting to speak to her, with an American flag draped around her shoulders. What was she thinking? What was she feeling?
“I’m thinking and feeling that this isn’t real,” she said. “I think I was pretty shocked when it happened and happy and excited and all the emotions. All of them.”